Most authors I'm familiar with who publish their own work do so via print-on-demand platforms such as CreateSpace or Kindle Direct Publishing, which I wrote about in Using KDP To Self Publish A Paperback.
If you choose to publish a paperback that way, the biggest plus is that you don't need to pay for a large quantity of books and hope to sell them later, or to pay for any books in advance at all. Each book is printed when it's ordered. The author is paid a royalty based on the purchase price.
But there are some downsides for the author, ones I wasn't aware of when I started out with my Awakening series.
First, the cost to produce each book is generally higher, which means the author either earns a fairly low royalty or prices the book higher than most traditionally-published books.
Because I prefer to keep my prices in a range that's similar to traditionally-published books, on trade paperback sales outside of Amazon, I typically make less than $.25 per book. (Sold through Amazon or in person, I earn a few dollars per book.)
Second, bookstores usually won't carry print-on-demand (POD) books. The main reason is that the books typically aren't returnable. If the bookstore orders five of them and only one sells, the store can't send the other four back.
Another reason I heard from one bookstore owner is that Amazon is the competition and the stores don't want to promote Amazon products. Because many authors use Amazon platforms CreateSpace and KDP for POD books, that rules them out. (If you want to try a different company, check out Ingram Spark.)
For similar reasons, some bookstores won't carry a book that refers to Amazon anywhere on its cover, back blurb, or inside. I had no idea about that when I published Book 1 in my Awakening Series, though I probably ought to have figured as much. By the time I published the paperback, the Kindle edition had spent many weeks in the Top 50 of Amazon's occult bestseller list (the highest rank was No. 1) and its horror list. I was excited about that, so I thought listing Amazon Best Seller on the cover was a great idea.
When I reissue the book with the updated cover (shown above), I'll leave that off. It's a bit of a tough call, though. When I sell at in-person events, that Best Seller reference tips some buyers over the edge to purchasing.
Finally, there are distribution outlets, such as libraries, that are unlikely to purchase books from CreateSpace.
Because for now I believe my time and effort are better spent focusing on ebook and audiobook sales rather than print despite the above downsides, I plan to continue using CreateSpace and KDP. If I explore other options later, though, I'll be sure to let you know.
There are a couple ways to self-publish your novel in paperback. I just tried a new option from Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) platform. Until recently, you could only publish a Kindle edition through KDP.
For my Awakening supernatural thriller series, I used a different Amazon company, CreateSpace, for the print editions. Because I was short on time, rather than try the do-it-yourself options, I paid CreateSpace to format the manuscript and create a paperback cover. The explanations on CreateSpace for how to do those tasks myself struck me as too daunting and technical.
KDP seemed like a simpler and clearer process, so I decided to try it.
Here’s my view on using KDP to publish a paperback, feature-by-feature:
Verdict: Thumbs Up
It was easy to create the cover once I got the hang of using the features. I uploaded the JPEG file I already had for the e-book. KDP automatically created several paperback options with a spine and back cover based on the front cover design and colors.
I choose the option that made the front cover an exact match for the e-book cover and extended the background across the spine and the back cover.
By clicking on the text boxes KDP provided, I pasted in my author biography and book description from a Word file onto the back cover. My title and author name were automatically included on the spine, minus the subtitle because the text is too long.
Overall, an easy process.
Verdict: A Qualified Thumbs Up
I’d been hoping that KDP would magically convert my e-book file (a MOBI file I created in Vellum) into a paperback, but no such luck. Instead, I needed to upload a Word file.
Uploading was easy. Formatting the Word file before uploading was more challenging.
KDP provides templates for whatever paperback size you want to use, but the template I downloaded included only the correct margin and sizing. I chose a font in Word that I thought would look good (Book Antiqua 12 pt.).
I struggled with page numbering. After consulting a lot of Help screens and experimenting, I learned how to break the manuscript into sections, which in theory allows different pagination for each, but I never could get it exactly how I wanted it. I settled for small Roman numerals that start with page 2 on the copyright page (I’d wanted them to start on page 2 of the Preface) and ordinary numbers from Chapter 1 on.
After the page number challenge, I opted not to try to create headers with the title on the left-hand pages and my name on the right, though I would have liked to do that.
Now that I’ve done formatting once, I suspect I’ll have an easier time in the future. But when I was doing it, I concluded I’d rather pay someone else to deal with it.
Book Description For Amazon
Verdict: Thumbs Up
The book description from the Kindle version appeared in that section for the paperback automatically, so that was easy.
Verdict: Not Enough Data
Because this book is very short, I wanted to keep the price low so readers would not be disappointed or expect a full-length book. The lowest price I could choose that ended in .99 was $3.99. That resulted in a royalty under $.30.
I suspect I couldn’t go lower because there’s a basic set up cost Amazon wants to recover before its worth allowing an author to publish. Because this was an experiment, I was okay with this price structure.
Based on my experience with CreateSpace, the numbers should work out better for a longer book. I plan to try it for my standalone supernatural suspense novel, When Darkness Falls, which is over 80,000 words. I’ll update this post once I do that.
Verdict: Thumbs Up (plus a gold star)
With CreateSpace, I always request a print copy to proof before approving the final version. I do that because I like seeing how the cover and page layout look on paper. I also find it helpful to proof the book on paper one last time.
KDP Publishing does not offer print proofs. I assume that’s part of what keeps the upfront cost to the author at zero. The only way to do a last check of the book is via the online preview function. That was pretty easy to use, and I was able to eyeball the entire book to make sure it looked OK.
It made me a little nervous to hit publish without actually holding the paperback in my hands. But I was happily surprised that the paperback looks great.
Verdict: Thumbs Down
Every year I share a table under the Chicago Writers Association tent at the Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago. I also have live book events for new releases in my Awakening series.
Through CreateSpace, I’m able to buy print copies of my books at cost and sell them for whatever price I choose at live events. (The shipping charges add to my cost, so I don’t earn a lot, but it is generally $1-$3 a book.) CreateSpace also usually sends a small number of free copies to the author.
KDP publishing does not offer author copies or the ability to buy at cost for authors. The only way to get copies of the book is to order them off Amazon. The author does still get the royalty for that, so you’re getting the book at the cost. But it means paying more money initially.
For that reason, I doubt I’ll use KDP for books that I envision selling at events.
On the other hand, this feature matters not at all for the other reasons authors make paperbacks available. Those include (1) offering a paperback for readers who don’t have ereaders; (2) highlighting the lower Kindle price through comparison to the paperback price; and (3) validation (many readers feel better trying out a new author whose books are also offered in print).
To that last point, though, oddly, Amazon so far has not automatically linked the paperback and Kindle versions, which I would have thought it would do given that I published them from the same platform. If that doesn’t happen soon, I’ll email KDP Help and ask them to do it.
Unlike CreateSpace, KDP does not offer distribution to non-Amazon sites. So my small book on the Supreme Court will not be available through Barnes and Noble’s website, though the books in The Awakening series are.
I’ve heard the country distribution is more limited on KDP than CreateSpace, though the KDP help screen says KDP distributes to Japan and CreateSpace does not, so that may work both ways.
The proportion of paperbacks I sell compared to ebook and audiobook editions is small, and I mainly publish them for the three reasons listed above, not as a money generator. For those reasons, the distribution doesn’t matter that much to me.
If you are focused on selling paperbacks, you may want to look further into the distribution question.
In summary, I had a good experience with KDP for creating a paperback. I give it a Thumbs Down solely for the lack of author copies, a neutral/not enough data rating on pricing and distribution, and a Thumbs Up for cover, manuscript formatting, book description, and print quality.
I hope that’s helpful. If you’ve tried KDP or another platform for your paperbacks, please share you experience in the Comments.
This Friday's recommendation is Book Report. If you sell ebooks on Amazon, or you plan to do so, it's a simple way to track sales and earnings over the lifetime of each book.
Without it, you can still easily see 90 days of sales on the Kindle Direct Publishing Dashboard. But the only way to figure out sales and earnings over the entire life of your books is to manually open multiple reports and tally the numbers yourself.
Last October I did that for the first book in my supernatural thriller series, The Awakening. That was tedious and took a long time, though I was happy to learn that I'd sold nearly 10,000 copies. Had I had Book Report, I could have done it for Kindle sales just by clicking a button. Book Report also shows a piechart of sales and earnings per book and by Amazon company (US versus UK versus Canada, etc.).
Here's the pie chart and the percentages by store for my Kindle ebooks. (The Awakening, Book 1, which has been out the longest, is the biggest slice of pie.)
Book Report is available free to anyone earning less than $1,000 per month through KDP. If you earn more than that, first, kudos to you, and second, it will be only $10 a month, but you can try it free for two weeks–without needing to enter credit card information now. Click on this link if you'd like to try it.
Sunday's post (Do You Need A Publisher, Part 3: Money) addressed how the publishing path you take might affect how much you earn. This week's recommendation is a report from AuthorEarnings.com tallying author earnings based on over one million titles available on Amazon.
The data is presented in income brackets, such as $10,000 in Amazon sales per year and seven figures in Amazon sales per year. The report includes graphs showing how many authors fit in each bracket by type of publication, so you can see the number of self-published authors versus Big 5 published authors who, for instance, earned six figures per year from Amazon sales.
The report also compares long-established authors with newbies. For example, the report shows “1,340 authors are earning $100,000/year or more from Amazon sales. But half of them are indies and Amazon-imprint authors. The majority of the remainder? They come from traditional publishing’s longest-tenured ‘old guard.'”